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Geoff Calkins Wants To Celebrate Memphis

“When you’re happy, I always figured why roll the dice on greater happiness somewhere else. I was happy here and so here I’ve stayed for now 25 years.”

Brian Noe

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There are many similarities between newspaper columnists and sports radio hosts. They constantly search for interesting angles to accentuate their opinions. Both look for captivating stories to tell. The occasional, “Man, I really stepped in it,” is also a possibility. Geoff Calkins is a man who wears both hats as a writer and radio host. He has chronicled Memphis sports for more than two decades — formerly at The Commercial Appeal and currently for The Daily Memphian. He also hosts The Geoff Calkins Show weekdays on 92.9 ESPN.

Geoff Calkins - The Daily Memphian

Geoff tells entertaining stories about Hubie Brown, Jason Williams the pen thief, and a tuba playing bet payoff in our discussion below. He also shares an intelligent view about chasing dreams.

As a writer with decades of experience, Geoff is obsessed with word choice. I’m not as magniloquent as Mr. Calkins, but his presence in Memphis certainly hasn’t been fugacious. Unfortunately, photosynthesis doesn’t fit here, so it looks like this is my intro stopping point. I hope you enjoy the interview.

Brian Noe: Is there more pressure writing words that don’t go away, or speaking words without having the ability to go back and edit yourself?

Geoff Calkins: I feel more pressure writing words that don’t go away. I’m always struck by how the things in print for whatever reason are held to a higher standard. Honestly I’m looser with what I say on the radio. In some ways that can get you in trouble. I’ll say things that I would not write. That’s just true; that I’m not as well reported, there are more theories, and more bouncing things off.

I would say there’s more pressure to write words that will not go away. When I’m writing a column, I think about every word. I’m obsessed with words. Word choice matters to me deeply when I write a column. When I talk on the air, I do my best. I try to find the right word, but there are so many words that you can’t sit there and sweat over every single one. It’s a very different enterprise.

BN: Does it feel liberating to be on the air compared to stressing over each word of a column? 

GC: Talking is easier than writing. Writing is hard. It just is. It’s like putting bricks together in a way. They all have to fit together just right in that line, but then the whole structure has to work too. You have to think ‘Okay, how am I going to start this? What comes next? What’s the perfect word here? Oh, that’s not quite working, let me try another.’ When you’re talking on the air, you’re just being yourself, or a stylized version of yourself. The labor is not close.

When you work for a newspaper — now I’m with an online newspaper — the job is just a wonderful job of going out and talking to people. It’s just the best job in the world because you have this freedom to go talk to anyone you want about anything you want. The reporting is fun. Being at events is fun. Getting to people’s stories and life stories is a great pleasure. But then there always comes this moment where you sit down at the computer and have to write. That is work in the way that nothing that I do on the radio feels like work. The next two hours of writing, that is hard work of the sort like writing a paper in college. That process is more difficult than anything we do on the radio.

BN: What is your 60-second resume that led to where you are now?

GC: I’m someone who always wanted to be a sports writer who took a detour into the law because he thought it was more respectable, and subsequently realized it was a mistake. I was a tremendous law student, but I was not a great lawyer. I was a very unhappy lawyer. At age 30, I said I’m going to try this again. I did journalism before; I had worked for the Miami Herald one summer, and I had worked for People magazine one summer in college. Those were college jobs.

After I had been at the law firm for a couple of years I said you know I’m going to try it one more time. I’m not going to pretend I’m a news writer. I’m going to be a sports writer because that’s what I wanted to do when I was 12. I was a kid who was one of nine. I grew up outside of Buffalo. If my parents punished me, they would take away my sports page reading privileges. They’d take away The Buffalo News and the Buffalo Courier-Express. That’s what I wanted to do when I was 12 and I just lost track of that because of money and prestige and all of that. I ended up unhappy and so I tried again and it worked.

BN: What other stops did you have before getting to Memphis?

GC: I wrote 300 newspapers and the only one who hired me was The Anniston Star down in Alabama. A guy named Joe Distelheim had been the sports editor in Detroit and was now the managing editor at Anniston. He hired me to do a 10-week internship covering high school sports for 225 a week. At the time I was making six figures as a young lawyer. Back then six figures met something, but I did it. I did two years there.

A guy named Fred Turner in Fort Lauderdale hired me to be the Marlins beat writer. He took a ridiculous chance on me to do that. I was not cut out to be a baseball beat writer, but I was having fun in a way that I never was as a lawyer. In Anniston I was having fun. I loved covering high school football games on a Friday night and Auburn on a Saturday. I was having a blast in a way that I just never was as a lawyer.

Fort Lauderdale was fun and then they took a chance on me here. I had only been a sports writer for four years when they gave me the column job in Memphis, which is a big chance that The Commercial Appeal took on me.

Now I was older because I didn’t start until I was 30, so I was 34. I don’t think I thought I’d stay here forever. In many ways Memphis is like Buffalo in that they’re sort of underdog places but a real strong sense of place and self. I fit here. I was happy. When you’re happy, I always figured why roll the dice on greater happiness somewhere else. I was happy here and so here I’ve stayed for now 25 years.

City guide — get all shook up in Memphis | Travel | The Times


BN: Did you ever have a moment in journalism school or when you went from six figures to 225 where you were like, “What am I doing?” Did that ever pop in your head?

GC: Yes. What I made for The Anniston Star was not sustainable. I would not have stayed in journalism if I was going to make 225 a week working in a small town in Alabama. As much as I liked Anniston, if that was where I was going to end up, I would have gone back to being a lawyer and said I’ll watch sports in my spare time and I’ll buy season tickets with my money.

I do think that one of the keys with people who want to do this for a living is to take a shot at it, but there is a certain amount of luck and a certain amount of ability that you have to have to make it to a level where this is both satisfying and where you can pay your bills. I’m not an idiot. I would not have stayed as a sports writer for 225 a week forever. I just wouldn’t have.

I tell people whether they want to do radio or print journalism, I tell them to give it a shot because you’re going to kick yourself if you don’t. If that’s what you really, really, really want to do. But be self-aware enough that after you’ve done it for a few years, to figure out if you have what it takes to get to a place in the industry where you’ll be happy because it’s really hard. Not everyone will make it. To me it’s not unlike someone who wants to move to L.A. and try to be a star. I’m not saying we’re stars but I think it’s become kind of a crapshoot like that.

You move to L.A., you give it a shot, and if you make it, great, if not, go be an accountant. Give yourself five years or 10 years, but you don’t have to work washing dishes for 30 years chasing your dream. Maybe I’m too much of a pragmatist. I’m enough of a dreamer to think you have to give it a shot, but I’m enough of a pragmatist to think that at some point you have to realize that sports journalism in whatever form may not be how you’re going to find your greater satisfaction or happiness.

BN: What’s the best advice you got as a journalist and what’s the best advice you got as a sports radio host?  

GC: The best I got as a journalist, there’s no substitute for making the next call or for being there. Just always make the next call. When you’re reporting a story and you can make three calls instead of two, make the third call. It’s stunning how often the third call is when you get the exact quote or the exact tip or whatever else that you need. And be there; actually a young journalist was asking me recently how to develop contacts and sources. The first thing I said was to show up. Be at everything. Be at every practice. Be at every Zoom call. Make sure they know that you’re serious and that you take your craft seriously. You’re covering people who take their craft very seriously, so you should take it as seriously. To me that’s the most important thing in journalism.

In terms of sports radio, Brad Carson, who’s our program director, is always urging us to get to the point quickly. I can meander a little bit. I think that was useful. There was someone early on who told me that a radio show is like staging a Broadway production every single day, that it’s not just yammering away about the events of the day. From the beginning to end, it is a production and we can’t craft it with the care and the months of preparation each day that they do in putting on a Broadway show, but in the end we are presenting something to people. Whatever it is — entertainment, opinion, interviews, laughter — to think hard about what exactly you want to present to people every day.

BN: We all know how much Ja Morant means to the Grizzlies, but beyond that, what does he mean for your jobs?

GC: There’s not much more fun in either print or on radio than celebrating wins, celebrating your town, your team, celebrating together. I grew up listening to the Buffalo Sabres. The Bills didn’t win much so I thought more of the Sabres at the time. They had a show called the Fourth Period. Ted Darling was the voice of the expansion Sabers at the time. After a win, I was the 11-year-old kid in bed listening to the Fourth Period because you just want to relive it. Ja Morant is going to give this city and all of us who covers sports a lot of moments that people are going to want to relive. He already has. We’ll see where it goes.

Things can go badly for Rookies of the Year. Anthony Davis, he wasn’t Rookie of the Year actually, but he didn’t work out and in the end he forced his way out of New Orleans. There are no guarantees, but it appears that he’s going to give us the kind of superstar that certainly at the professional level this town has never had. At the college level we had it, but it’s fleeting.

We had a year of Derrick Rose. We had two years of Penny Hardaway. We’ve had fleeting tastes of a superstar. We haven’t had a decade of a superstar ever in Memphis. Ja could be that. When you can just come in and celebrate with the city, be an outlet for that celebration, radio doesn’t really get more fun than that.

The year of Ja Morant - Grizzly Bear Blues

BN: It probably means you don’t have to play your tuba outside of the arena though, right?

GC: [Laughs] Where did you hear that story?

BN: [Laughs] I was doing crack research on you before this interview. Can you tell that story? It’s a great story, man.

GC: In the early days of the Grizzlies, they were starting another season. They were 0-9 or whatever they were. The previous year they had started — I’m making up these numbers — something like 0-13. So you run out of things to say about losing teams. I said if this team gets to 0-13, I’ll play Christmas carols on my tuba outside of the Pyramid. This was back when they were in the Pyramid.

Sure enough, they lose, they lose, they lose and we get to the fateful game. I referred to them in my column again. At this point the pressure is building. They were playing the Golden State Warriors and the head coach, I forgot who it was, printed out my column and put it on the seats of the Warriors’ bench before the game to further inspire their team to victory.

I remember Antawn Jamison hit a 3 and said start warming up that tuba. I had to play Christmas carols on my tuba outside of the Pyramid. But what I did was, I called the tuba player for the Memphis Symphony and I got another two dozen tuba playing friends and we had a little tuba Christmas outside of the Pyramid. It was fun. 

BN: What’s a memorable story of a player or coach that either ripped you or complimented you for your work?

GC: Okay, well on the bad side was when Jason Williams stole my pen in the locker room. Jason Williams came after me after a playoff game. Mike Miller had to peel him off of me. The audio of Jason is, “You ain’t writing nothing, homeboy.” Actually we use that clip of Jason saying that to start my radio show every day, as if by taking my pen he could stop me from writing something. He later returned to the Grizzlies and they had a little press conference. I put 20 pens in my pocket, so when I walked up the first thing he saw was me with 20 pens. He got fined $20,000 for that though, so it was an expensive pen. Then Calipari I would say. John Calipari hated me. Those are the two.

You know who was great was Hubie Brown. Hubie Brown came here at a time when his career as a coach was supposed to be over. People mocked Jerry West a little bit for the hire. It seemed very unusual for a young team to bring Hubie out of mothballs, but it was really fun. It was a fun few years and Hubie won Coach of the Year. Here’s a guy, every single press conference of his was a tutorial. It was just wonderful. Memphis kind of fell in love with him and his sort of grandfatherly ways.

Hubie, probably more than anyone else, went out of his way to thank me for the way I covered him. Given that he is such a pro, I think that’s why that one sticks in my mind. For Hubie, who knows more about basketball than I would ever think of knowing, for him to thank me for the way I covered him was particularly meaningful.

BN: Is there anything that you would like to accomplish or experience before you retire?

GC: Not really. I’ve covered great events. I think the most fun was the Olympics. I’ve covered eight Olympics and that’s plenty. They’re just a total blast to cover. Super Bowls and Masters and all of that stuff, but to me the fun part was always to be connected to a community, to be one of the voices in a community.

I wanted to be Larry Felser. Larry Felser was the columnist in Buffalo for The Buffalo News that I grew up reading. When I was a 12-year-old kid, I wanted to be Larry Felser. In a way I’ve become that in Memphis. Because of the state of newspapering, there won’t ever be another sports columnist that can have the reach that sports columnists of the past had in Memphis. I don’t just mean me; I just mean everyone who preceded me. The job has changed, but I got to be that for the better part of two decades. 

We Want Marangi: Walking With Larry Felser

Now I’ve gotten to transition and to be part of doing it differently on a radio show where the conversation is more intimate and there’s more dialogue. You actually are talking to the community. The fun part is being a part of a community and I’ve been able to do that. I just want to keep doing that for a while.

It would be nice for Memphis to win a championship. Memphis has come close. To get back to the Final Four and to have no Mario Chalmers shot or to have Ja carry this team to an NBA championship. But I don’t need that for me to feel like I’ve had fun with this. It’s been a blast.

BSM Writers

John Mamola Didn’t Overthink New WDAE Lineup

“I don’t go book-to-book my talent, I just don’t. I think the more and more you dive into ratings, the more and more you overthink things.”

Brady Farkas

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Just over one month ago, WDAE in Tampa Bay reshuffled its daily line-up. The iHeartMedia station, programmed by John Mamola, moved the Ronnie and TKras program from mornings to afternoons and moved the midday Pat and Aaron show into mornings, while creating a new midday show centered around Jay Recher and producer-turned-host Zac Blobner.

The station let previous host Ian Beckles go as part of the reshuffling.

Barrett Sports Media caught up with Mamola this week to talk about the new line-up, the Tampa Bay market, the importance of developing from within and much more.

(Some of the answers have been edited for brevity and clarity)

BSM: It’s been just over a month since these changes took hold, what would you say is the overall response to them?

JM: Overall, really positive. We lost a really important piece and a pillar of the station in Ian Beckles, but with the moves that we did make, it was overall a pretty positive response from the listeners.

BSM: This wasn’t just creating one new show and calling it a day, this was moving multiple shows into new dayparts. How do you as a programmer get multiple hosts on board with re-arranging their schedules in that manner?

JM: My morning show went into afternoons so they didn’t have to wake up early, so they were very open and welcome to that. As for the original midday show, I knew they were early risers, so moving to mornings didn’t really affect their sleep schedules. And then my midday show, which is the new one, putting those two together is just a combination of some very young, hungry guys that always want new opportunity and are always looking to capitalize on opportunity.

So I wouldn’t say necessarily the convincing was the hard part because it just made a lot of sense for the people involved. The guys in the morning didn’t have to wake up early. The guys in the mornings are early risers anyway, and you get two young, hungry guys to take care of that opportunity so the convincing part was quite easy.

BSM: I got to know Zac Blobner a little bit on the Producers Podcast. He was highlighted a few episodes back and I thought really highly of him. Why was this the right time to get him into a full-time on-air role?

JM: Zac’s been doing some on-air stuff for on the weekends for a number of years. He had his own show and then we tried him out with a couple people on staff on Saturday mornings. That just didn’t necessarily work out but he has hosted a fantasy football show, which we actually air Orlando and in Miami as well as Tampa, live for the last five years.

So his on-air persona – he was a huge part of the morning show and the success of the Ronnie and TKras Show for their run in mornings. So if we were to elevate someone from inside, it just seemed like he was the right guy to elevate, and to pair with Jay Recher. It’s two young, hungry guys and they play well off each other. Some of the best highlights of my day are just sitting in their pre-show meetings with them and their producer Jon Dugas and just listening to how they collaborate together as a threesome on how to attack content, what sound to use, and what guests to book.

Really, it’s three producers in one room all talking about how to collaborate and do a show. Zac has earned the opportunity, just like Pat Donovan who was a producer first. Aaron Jacobson was a producer at first. It was Zac’s time and he’s done a tremendous job with it so far, albeit it’s only a month, but I totally expect it to be a very high ceiling for that show and for Zac in particular.

BSM: Some programmers believe on developing and promoting from within and some programmers believe in always looking for a splashy hire from the outside. Why is developing talent and promoting from within important to you and WDAE?

JM: I think it’s vital for every brand to have a good bench and to continue to find different ways to utilize that bench. Maybe not on the Monday through Friday, but definitely on the weekends in some capacity. And if not there, then on the digital product. You bring in certain guys to push everyone else. Zac was one of those guys. Jay Recher was one of those guys. Pat Donovan was one of those guys. Ronnie and TKras were two of those guys. I like to bring in guys that have a goal and want to push everyone to be better, not just themselves, but push everyone to be better. We have a tremendous team atmosphere on WDAE and we’ve had it for a number of years.

And when you do a lot of change, like we did about a month ago, you don’t want to keep it too foreign. You want to keep it with somebody that the audience knows and the audience has grown to know. Because the minute you start bringing in out of town people that nobody’s ever heard of or you start going to syndication instead of staying live and local, you start to lose your cume, and you start to lose that branding.

We like to put out as much as we can with whatever we have and I think having good, driven people in the hiring process, albeit I’ve hired a little young over my time here, it’s continued to push the narrative that we are continually growing from within and this was just the latest step of that. I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon.

BSM: When you have new shows and shows in different dayparts, are you mentioning things like ratings and revenue to them? Or do you just tell them to build the shows and worry about it later?

JM: I don’t go book-to-book my talent, I just don’t. I think the more and more you dive into ratings, the more and more you overthink things. It’s important, but it’s not the biggest thing. For me, it’s the sound of the show. If the show sounds like it’s got energy, if it sounds like it’s progressing, if it sounds like we’re creating more attention by what we’re saying and we’re developing as talents and as a station, you feel it. You don’t need to see the numbers. The numbers are the numbers.

The system is great when it’s great but when it’s terrible, it’s still flawed. You know? I mean, Neilson ratings only get you so far but If I start seeing stream numbers go up, which I’ve seen, that’s a positive.  If I see digital traffic or social media growth or something like that, that’s a metric I can track. Today I went to the gas station and they had our sports station on. If I can hear that, that means we’re doing something right. I don’t look book-to-book. I think PDs that dive into numbers and analytics and, and clocks…. Look, if you put out entertaining stuff, they’ll stick with you. And it starts with giving that confidence to your talent. And that’s how I program.

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BSM Writers

Brock Huard Believes The Third Time’s The Charm For Brock and Salk

“If I was a radio consultant, there’s two muscles you have to build constantly. A is listening and B is curiosity.”

Tyler McComas

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It just felt right for Brock Huard when he stepped back behind the mic at Seattle Sports 710. On September 6th, he returned to the airwaves with longtime partner Mike Salk in morning drive. It’s been almost three months since Huard returned to radio, but it still feels as right as it did that early September morning. That’s because the business is in his blood. 

“Once radio is in your blood, it doesn’t leave,” said Huard.

If you talk sports radio with Huard for any length of time, you won’t question his love or intelligence about the industry. He truly loves and understands the business. When you have a former player that has an incredible amount of passion for sports radio, you really have something. Seattle Sports 710 really has something with Huard and his return to the airwaves made locals in the Pacific Northwest very happy. 

Brock & Salk haven’t had to deal with the challenges that new shows experience in the first few months. They’re not trying to establish a chemistry and flow together. They’ve had it after doing a show together twice before, plus a podcast the two hosted together.

“He and I had still done the podcast together for the last couple of years, and had a number of conversations over that time about how fun that hour and a half was, each and every week,” said Huard. “We never really missed a podcast and we both thoroughly enjoyed it. Had we not done that podcast for two years, I don’t know if we would have come back for a third iteration. The third time has been the charm on this iteration.”

What makes the show isn’t just Huard being a former athlete or Salk being a very dynamic and experienced host. The two share an incredible chemistry that shines through on the air. However, Huard thinks there’s one reason in particular that the two mesh so well on air. 

“Because we listen,” said Huard. “That’s number one. I will listen to so many radio shows when I’m on the road and I’m like, this is bad radio. And you can tell hosts aren’t listening to one another, they’re just waiting for their time to talk and they fill and it’s terrible.

“If I was a radio consultant, there’s two muscles you have to build constantly. A is listening and B is curiosity. I think for 14 years he’s still genuinely curious about me and how my mind works, world views, ideology and sports views. After 14 years, I’m equally interested in how he thinks and it’s very different than me.

“It was hard to be able to listen and respect one another, because we come from two totally different world views, in many ways. But at the same time, when you do, and you’re curious to listen to the other side and what they have to say, you create unique content.

“He and I used to have to build these big show sheets when we started and we still have structure and everyday there’s still show sheets, but a consultant by the name of Rick Scott told me this early on, he said you know your show will be good, when you don’t get to half of the stuff on your show sheet. And he was absolutely right 14 years ago.”

Co-hosting morning drive at Seattle Sports 710 isn’t the only gig Huard has in sports media. He’s also a college football analyst for FOX. He’ll be on the call Friday night for the Pac-12 Championship game between USC and Utah. But everything ties back to radio for Huard and a recent experience on an airplane made him realize it again. 

“I was sitting next to this very smart gentleman the other day on my trip home from college football, and he was crushing crossword puzzles like I’ve never seen before,” said Huard. “He’s a very successful attorney and you could see for him, that was such a tool to keep his mind sharp. For me, radio is the same thing. It’s been the best training ground for everything I do with media, especially television.

“If you can do live radio and equip your mind to listen and strengthen that listening muscle, while also creating content, it’s a pretty good active tool. It keeps my mind sharp and plays to my mind’s strengths, I think, with just how wackado I can be between my ears at times. If you have a tremendous partner that helps shape you, like Salk is to me, then it’s just addictive and gets in your blood and doesn’t leave.”

As it relates to radio, being a college football analyst has its perks, because of the access it gives Huard. Every week before calling a game, he gets production meetings with head coaches, which gives him insight that others may not have. It also awards Huard the opportunity to create relationships with coaches. But how much of what’s said does he feel like he can use on the game broadcast or his radio show?

“99.9 percent is used on the air, on the show and sometimes I gain insight and share it with coaches that I know to encourage them,” said Huard. “It baffles me how many times I will hear from my peers, oh, I hate these coaches meetings. I don’t get anything out of them. And I’m like, God bless you. I will have a career for the rest of my life if that’s the way you approach it. It’s the most valuable real estate we have. It’s a forum that nobody else has.

“Yeah, they have press conferences, but if you build true trust and relationship and confidence, they want to tell you their story. They want to share their team. I can’t tell you how many times content from those meetings comes to life in my sit downs with Pete Carroll or Jerry Dipoto, GM of the Mariners or Scott Servais, or on the air or off the air.”

Huard has an insight to college football that few in the Pacific Northwest has, but that doesn’t mean he and Salk will jam pack content from that sport into the show. The duo knows that Seattle cares about. Sure, there’s an interest for college football, but not anywhere near the hunger from Seahawks and Mariners content. 

For example, Huard called the TCU vs. Baylor game two weeks ago, which featured one of the best endings in college football this year, when the Horned Frogs nailed a field goal as time expired. The call of the moment was spectacular and could be the shining moment of the season for a TCU team that looks destined for the College Football Playoff. On the Monday after, Huard and Salk made it a part of the show, but never had the intention of making it the majority of the show. 

“Our audience is dominated by the Seahawks and Mariners,” said Huard. “That dominates 80 to 90 percent of our conversation. I would say lifestyle is probably the rest. For example, we played that highlight today four times over the course of the show. We rank things at the end of every show and it was my Top 5 games of my broadcast life in 14 years on the road and that was number 1.

“I often use conversations and things I learned from those games and players and relate them to the Seahawks and Mariners. Dave Aranda talked about living with expectations and how hard that is in our meeting on Friday. He said, you watch, TCU is going to have to live in an entirely different world, where you’re on the mountain top instead of climbing it. And then you relate that toward the Seahawks or the Rams this year.

“Inevitably, yes, those moments create content, either emotionally or football 101. Radio is all encompassing in that way. I never understand radio hosts who try to play it straight. I just don’t. I think it’s bad radio. You have to be willing to live your life and put your life out there, whether it’s good, bad or ugly. The more you do that, the more you attach yourself and connect with your audience.”

It feels like the third time is truly the charm for Huard and Salk. They listen, they have chemistry and the content is a refreshing mix of sports and lifestyle. 

“He and I are not comedians,” said Huard. “We don’t play fake laugh tracks like others do. He and I will land way more on the analytical information side than maybe a consultant would tell us what morning radio people want. But I think where it cuts through is he and I put our lives out there. Our parenting success and failures. Relationship struggles, kids, sports, youth sports, that’s probably where we connect in a way that’s more lifestyle. That’s the word I would use.”

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BSM Writers

Chuck Swirsky Embodies ‘Always A Pleasure’

“I love working with Bill Wennington and each and every day I have the same enthusiasm of calling a Bulls game like I did as a five-year-old child calling games off a TV.”

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It’s hard to imagine there are any more positive thinking people in the world than Chuck Swirsky. If you don’t believe me, just check out his daily tweets. Swirsky has a lot to be upbeat about, he’s doing what he’s always wanted to, and now he’s written a book.

Always a Pleasure” is his creation, putting thoughts on paper, or iPad or whatever, about stories and people he’s encountered over the more than 40-years he’s been in the business.

The title is aptly accurate. Chuck is always a pleasure to be around and is one of the most supportive people I’ve ever met. He encourages those that need it. Swirsky always has time for people in the business and those trying to get into this crazy racket. I’ve seen and experienced it for myself, so trust me when I tell you, it’s the truth.

There are those that have worked multiple decades in play-by-play, and I’ll bet each and every one of them has been asked at some point, ‘hey, why don’t you write a book?’. Sounds easy enough, I’m sure. But when you really think about it, how can a person be expected to fit 40 plus years of work into a book that wouldn’t be the size of a dictionary?

More on that in a moment. I was wondering what makes someone in Swirsky’s position to write a book. So, I asked him. He outlined the main reason he decided to put pen to paper and tell some of his favorite stories and recall good memories.

“Over the past several years I was approached by several publishers and writers who were interested in detailing my journey in sports broadcasting, featuring my stops calling major college athletics and NBA basketball in addition to sports talk.” Swirsky told me. “I was reluctant to do so but a year ago I had a change of heart knowing 2022-23 Bulls season would be my 25th in the NBA, including my 2-thousandth NBA play-by-play game.”

Swirsky didn’t use a sportswriter or an author to tell his tale. “For years I have saved notes and decided to write the book myself, in my own words. I love my job. I have no desire to retire. I want to continue broadcasting Bulls game for many more years as long as my health and clarity allow me to do so.” he said.

“I love working with Bill Wennington and each and every day I have the same enthusiasm of calling a Bulls game like I did as a five-year-old child calling games off a TV. I have the utmost respect for the Reinsdorf  family and our entire organization.  I just felt this was the right time to write a book.”

I have followed Swirsky’s career closely and gotten to know him over the years. Growing up in Chicago, I was fortunate enough to hear him in his early days here, at the old WCFL (now ESPN 1000), where he became one of the pioneers of sports talk radio. He’s called games on radio and television.

For DePaul, Michigan, select White Sox games, the Raptors and now over the last nearly 2 decades, the Bulls. That’s a lot of experience and a lot of experiences for one person. It made ‘editing’ the book a little difficult.

“I could have easily written another 100 pages featuring additional sports personalities and stories.” Swirsky said. “But I elected to highlight specifics of a timeline allowing the reader to understand that my quest to reach a childhood goal of broadcasting NBA basketball was met with challenges, setbacks and ultimately persevering through hard work, focus, passion and positivity.”

Writing books can be a way to look back on a career. Swirsky if far from done. He never really reflected on things, because he was always looking forward. But the retrospective allowed him to realize a few things along the way.

“I would say this. I am my own worst critic.  I very seldom look back on my career. While I was writing “Always A Pleasure” I had to stop and truly reflect how blessed I  am to be in the position where  I am today. I never take it for granted. Never have. Never will.” Swirsky said.  “Nothing is easy. It’s hard. This business can be exhilarating yet so difficult. I never get too high nor too low although I’m very sensitive and my insecurities get the best of me which is probably not a good thing , especially in radio-television.”

In looking back there’s bound to be a few lessons learned from the past. Swirsky did find a few things in writing the book that he remembered, educated him along the way. “I learned that anyone who applies themselves, making  a commitment to work on their  skill set, and their weaknesses through hard work, dedication, passion and purpose, can be successful.” he said. 

“For example, not every professional athlete is going to hit .330. Let’s say another player is hitting .240. What is keeping him in the big leagues? Is it his  glove,  his ability to play multiple positions?  His  character in the locker-room? The same principle is in effect in our industry. Maximize your strengths and do it with a great attitude, humility and kindness.”

Swirsky’s book details his interactions with some very familiar people in the business and the sports world. “I have plenty of stories featuring some of the biggest names in sports ranging from Hall of Fame baseball star Willie Mays who many consider perhaps the greatest player of all time to Kobe Bryant who left our world way too soon.” he says. “When you’ve been a professional broadcaster for 46 years, one  meets many, many players, coaches, executives, media and sports personalities along the way.” 

The one thing you can say about Swrisky, is he is real. There’s no pretense or facade. A genuine human being that is interested in what people have to say. Athletes, coaches, broadcasters and yes, even fans. His book has been reviewed by some of the greats. Mike Breen, Chris Bosh and even Steph Curry. Here’s the 2-time NBA MVP’s take on Swirsky and the book.

Having known Chuck since my days as a still-developing youth player in Toronto, where my dad was a member of the Raptors, I can attest to the fact that his passion for people and basketball is deep and sincere.

Chuck’s unique desire to mentor young people, especially minorities and those of different cultures and backgrounds, will help inspire those who share the same dreams, dreams that enabled him to persevere to the top of his profession.

I’m proud of Chuck, and excited that others can become enlightened by his exciting broadcasting journey, which includes nearly 25 years in the NBA and, of course, a trio of Curry family members shooting from the stars, just like him.

A book written by someone as accomplished in this industry as Swirsky draws interest because of who he is. But the Bulls’ play-by-play man is always thinking of others and trying to help where he can, just like Curry said. Along with stories, he lends his knowledge and relates it to those who are already in broadcasting and those trying to get in.

“I’m hoping those in our industry who read the book even those outside the radio-tv, new media field will come away knowing that perseverance is a powerful resource to help withstand the emotional heartache of rejection, disappointment and loneliness.” said Swirsky. He adds, “I have experienced everything. The good. The bad. The ugly. I’m talking all levels.  My message is to stay true to your core values. In this case,  my foundation is  built on respect,  kindness, honesty, sincerity and selflessness.”  

Given the opportunity to beam about the finished product, Swirsky in typical fashion, deflected any praise. Simply saying, “I am very humbled and appreciative of  the professionalism of the book’s publisher, Eckhartz Press. They allowed me to be me. That’s all I wanted. Mission accomplished. I am grateful.”

The entire industry should be grateful for people like Swirsky. There are so few in the business who are as kind and caring as he is. There are just as few people that take interest in others, and help mentor the next generation like Chuck. Inspiring stories, a career chronicle and life lessons, “Always a Pleasure” is going to be on my must-read list for the holidays. Congrats “Swirsk” keep up the great work.

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